Published 4:52 PM EDT Jul 7, 2019
Google and other tech companies have been under fire recently for a variety of issues, including failing to protect user data, failing to disclose how data is collected and used and failing to police the content posted to their services.
Companies such as Google have embedded themselves in our lives with useful services including Gmail, Google Maps and Google Search, as well as smart products such as the Google Assistant which can answer our questions on a whim.
The benefits of these tools come at the cost of our privacy, however, because while Google says that privacy should not be a “luxury good, ” its still going to great lengths to collect as much detail as possible about its users and making it more difficult than necessary for users to track whats collected about them and delete it.
Heres the latest case in point.
In May, I wrote up something weird I spotted on Googles account management page. I noticed that Google uses Gmail to store a list of everything youve purchased, if you used Gmail or your Gmail address in any part of the transaction.
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If you have a confirmation for a prescription you picked up at a pharmacy that went into your Gmail account, Google logs it. If you have a receipt from Macys, Google keeps it. If you bought food for delivery and the receipt went to your Gmail, Google stores that, too.
You get the idea, and you can see your own purchase history by going to Googles Purchases page.
Google says it does this so you can use Google Assistant to track packages or reorder things, even if thats not an option for some purchases that arent mailed or wouldnt be reordered, like something you bought a store.
At the time of my original story, Google said users can delete everything by tapping into a purchase and removing the Gmail. It seemed to work if you did this for each purchase, one by one. This isnt easy — for years worth of purchases, this would take hours or even days of time.
So, since Google doesnt let you bulk-delete this purchases list, I decided to delete everything in my Gmail inbox. That meant removing every last message Ive sent or received since I opened my Gmail account more than a decade ago.
Despite Googles assurances, it didnt work.
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On Friday, three weeks after I deleted every Gmail, I checked my purchases list.
I still see receipts for things I bought years ago. Prescriptions, food deliveries, books I bought on Amazon, music I purchased from iTunes, a subscription to Xbox Live I bought from Microsoft – its all there.
Google continues to show me purchases Ive made recently, too.
I cant delete anything and I cant turn it off.
When I click on an individual purchase and try to remove it – it says I can do this by deleting the email, after all – it just redirects to my inbox and not to the original email message for me to delete, since that email no longer exists.
So Google is caching or saving this private information somewhere else tha